Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pulse: Church & Christ (A Guest Post by Nathan Jeffers)

I grew up in the church. I can't tell you how many times I've said that phrase. Usually it's in response to a question. Like, "how long have you been a Christian?" or "tell me a bit about yourself..." or "why do you have so many psychological problems?" (you'd be surprised how much I get that last one). Church is where I made friends, hung out, played dumb youth group games, oh and learned a bit about someone called Jesus. The church has always been a part of my life. For better or worse. I've seen people's lives be miraculously transformed, I've seen people become bitter, I've seen enormous good and heart-breaking bad. I'm always reminded that as long as the church is filled with people, it will be flawed. But thank God we don't get to have the last word. The church (and the people in it) have had a part in shaping me into the person I am today. And I've realized the responsibility that our generation has in shaping what the church will be in the years to come. The church is not just our parents' church. It's ours. Our generation is really great at pointing out things that are broken or being misused, but we're not great at fixing things. To quote the prophet Kanye West, "I'm so gifted at finding what I don't like the most." Maybe that's an over-generalization, but I do know that I am really great at complaining, but not so good at finding a solution. So here are a few rambling thoughts on some issues that I've began to notice with the church, which our generation is going to be tasked with challenging: 

(Just a side-note: I'm not pointing out these things to simply bash the church. I actually see great things within the church as it stands and I just want us to be aware of how we get in the way of God working and doing good in the world. Also, I know there are many more problems ailing the church/world and these might not seem applicable to your situation, these are just what I've began to notice in my own context.) 

* Our buildings and programs are all designed to get people to fall into place. You are supposed to come as a new person, feel welcomed, sing some songs, listen to the sermon, maybe even get involved with a bible study, and then find an area where you can "serve" at the church. In the midst of this process you're supposed to become a Christian. Usually by that we mean saying a prayer and agreeing to an established set of doctrines. In this system, the mark of a "healthy Christian" is a person who has signed off on the church's statement of faith, attends a weekly bible study, raises their hands during worship, and serves as a usher on Sunday mornings. Churches are set up to accommodate this conversion process on a large scale. Our services are set up to welcome as many people as possible. But what if this modern, industrialized version of church was actually making it harder to actually follow Christ's teachings? 

* The church has become more like an event we attend, rather than a place to encourage one another towards doing good. Church should never be the main event. It should be the epicenter of transformation that sends out grace-filled people to make the broken things of the world become new again. The church is often just a series of routines to learn and patterns to follow, but it could be so much more than than. Maybe sometimes I don't want it to be more than that, but I've seen some beautiful things come out of taking God's call to be ministers of reconciliation. And I can't help but wonder if there's more to life than Sunday mornings and weekly routines. 

* When does church and it's popular structure get in the way of us doing what God has called us to? What if God was asking us to feed the hungry and we said, "sorry God, I have to go to church"? What if God was asking us to give water to the thirsty and we said, "sorry God, I have worship team practice"? What if God was asking us to care for the widows and the orphans and we said, "sorry God, I have bible study tonight"? Our church structures have the possibility to transform us or to stifle our growth. We must be acutely aware of the tension that presides in our churches and if a tradition is causing us to act less like Christ, then we need to reevaluate and possibly change it. * Going to church doesn't make you a great person. Being a Christian doesn't make you a great person. In fact, some of the nicest, kindest, Jesus-like people I've ever met have been people that considered themselves "searching agnostics". And I've met some Christians that consider themselves as the arbiter of truth who think they are so righteous, holy, and yet are complete jerks. It's better to be a humble searching agnostic, than a prideful Christian. When we believe (as the church has sometimes taught us) that we have all the answers, then we have sorely missed out on what it means to follow Jesus. Was Jesus sometimes about giving the "right answer"? Yes. But his life was dedicated to something much greater. He summed it up when he said, "‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" His life was dedicated to love. Love enough to heal, love enough to listen, love enough to die for his friends and his enemies. 

* I've been learning a lot about what it means to be a great leader. The best leaders I've ever met try to get their ego out of the way as much as possible, lead by serving, and are vulnerable with the people they are leading. I've learned that a pastor's job is not to be a great preacher, it's to instruct and encourage everyone in the church to be their own pastor. Their job is to give over power by training the members of the congregation to develop their own ability and authority as a follower of Christ. Our churches often have the mindset that the pastor is the holder of all knowledge and we are supposed to attend church to absorb that knowledge like a sponge. Never daring to question. You can even see it in the way that our churches are physically set up. The preacher is up front, often on a literal pedestal, and the congregation is sitting in rows to be guided by their leader. This has caused us to place undue responsibility on our pastors to be holy people while we get on with normal everyday life. We have to recognize that all of us has a mixture of the ordinary and the divine within us. 

* We all have the responsibility to constantly die to our self and be transformed to look more like Christ.

Nathan Jeffers is a fellow graduate of Biola University. He tweets about 1,800 times and hosts Listen, a marvelous organization of searching souls in search of searching. You can enjoy their delightful podcast there as well.

1 comment:

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